Southern Comfort

southern comfort

Back in the fall I befriended another Southerner living in St. Louis. Our sons are in the same class at school.

She’s a talented physician, here finishing her second residency. We were sitting on a blanket in the September humidity at a parents’ luncheon or a soccer game. Making small talk as the conversation was about to turn big.

“You’re from The South too,” she said. “I hear the accent.”

“Yes, I grew up in North Carolina,” I said.

“Tennessee for me,” she said.

“How long you been here?” I said.

“Nine years.” she said. “You?”

“We’ve been in the Midwest going on 14 years,” I said. “Two in Chicago and 12 in St. Louis.”

Then we gave each other the look.

The look is difficult to explain. It’s kind of a rolling of the eyes, a nervous laugh, a heavy resigned sigh. More of an understanding than a look.

“We’ve been here all these years,” I said, “but still find it difficult to feel at home. And St. Louis is not The South.”

Her eyes popped open, wide as teacup saucers. “No, it’s not The South,” she said in a loud whisper. “I keep telling my husband that, and he says it’s all the same, but it’s not.”

“No,” I said, my own eyes wide now and my voice reverently low yet liberated. “It’s not.”

Here was a kindred soul. A Southern sister exiled in the Midwest.

Despite my bellowing I’m a Tarheel born and a Tarheel bred three hundred times to the Carolina fight song, I was not born in The South. I moved there when I was seven and stayed for 20 years.

At first I didn’t like it, especially the accents. Mostly because my new friends razzed me for not having one. Now those accents are so precious I nearly cry when I hear one in passing at the airport.

Without my knowledge, The South grew on me as I grew up in it. I only left for the promise of bustling Midwestern river towns. Work, work, always work.

Now 14 years later, I’m awake again and wondering how did I end up here? When’s the next train home?

Of course there are many, many good things about St. Louis and the Midwest. The Zoo, the Art Museum, the Arch, Forest Park, the Balloon Glow, the Cardinals, the Loop, frozen custard, gooey butter cake, Mai Lee.

Endless rows and rows of corn and soybeans stretching out over miles and miles of flat, flat land. Grayed prairies washed green and yellow and blue with a storm. It could grow on you. It could be home.

Life is complicated now. Can’t just pick up and move. How would my child adjust? What about school and church? What about the house? What about work, work, work?

Ran into my Southern soul sister at the Botanical Garden a few weekends ago. She’s in the last days of her medical training and has secured a job.

It’s in Birmingham.

Look homeward, angel. Look home.

All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. Psalm 38:9 NIV

What better way to end than with a country song complete with whiskey, tobacco and lonely. Savor the tender twang of Patty Loveless in A Thousand Times a Day.

A true Tarheel, Thomas Wolfe was born in Asheville, NC. Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, his first novel, was published in 1929. It is believed to be autobiographical.

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12 Comments

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12 Responses to Southern Comfort

  1. I left the prairie at age 18 to become a Southern girl. I love the South. But family led me back to North Dakota. I’m not Southern but I proudly pretend to be when I visit my friends there. A tiny part of me will be always be at the University of Georgia. There is just a class of the South I love. Great post!

    • Thank you, Katie. I didn’t know you were a UGA girl! Go dawgs! It’s crazy, but I have to ask if you ever saw REM in person? At Carolina, we were always a twitter when rumors (frequently) circulated that they would be playing at the Black Cat under a pseudonym. The rumors never panned out, at least not on the nights when I was silly enough to buy a BC ticket.

  2. Robbie Jarrell

    I want to travel all over the U.S. and even further. I also want to know I have N.C. waiting on me to return when I need to come back and feel the comfort that only the south can provide. I was born in Chicago and still have family there. My parents moved us to N.C. before I was walking and talking. I am thankful for that decision all the time. I enjoy reading your posts A!

    • Thank you, R! I love what you wrote.
      So true how we want to know home is there for us to come back to again. And I didn’t know you were born in Chicago. I learned something new today.
      I’m touched you are reading these, my friend!

  3. Ginger Price

    Just read this blog post…loved it. And I too LOVE your accent. I feel the same way about the Northwest. My heart jumps when I see plates from Oregon, Washington or Idaho or meet someone from there. There’s something so comfortable about home that will never leave our hearts! It’s funny how you can live somewhere for so long and not totally feel like if fits like your favorite pair of jeans. The South intrigues me; it is different in many lovely ways. I like the formality of the culture. How polite people are, grits, greens, I could go on and on. While I appreciate and respect it, it’s not the fiber I’m made from.

    Thank you, much love on this dreary day!

    • Ginger, thanks for posting your comment here (and for alerting me that my comments function was turned off yesterday. yikes!).
      It’s not that the south is so much better than anywhere else. It’s more about what is home to you, wherever that may be. Love the comparison you made to favorite jeans. I know I have to try on a lot of jeans before I find something that even fits right, much less feels comfortable. Once I find them though, they’re mine for life.

  4. Such wonderful sentiments here Aimee that really capture the feeling of those that have lived here and moved on to other parts of the world. I have lived in San Antonio, Seattle, Anderson, Tacoma and even as far as Germany in a little town called Baumholder, and I still love it here in N.C. above all. I doubt I will ever leave again, but it sure makes coming home all the sweeter when I do. N.C. misses you right back friend. I would love nothing better than to get together someday and catch up in person. That would be a hoot!

    God bless and keep on writing! Love reading your posts always….

    Rodney

    • Thanks, Rodney. I read on FB you were in the military for a while. Wondering if that took you to Germany? It is exciting to travel and live away, but there is nothing quite like coming home.
      Thank you for your comment about NC missing me right back. One of my best girlfriends told me something similar once and I will always remember it. We’ll have to catch up someday in person. Maybe we can have a big cookout or something with our families. You and Jeff can man the grill while your wife and I watch Gone with the Wind and we’ll invite all our AJMS friends. My son would love to meet your girls too!
      Have a great weekend!

      • Yes, I hear that “Feo” is quite the ladies man… My girls would adore him. I did spend time in the Army and that was why I was in Germany. I was there for two years or so and loved it but it was not Carolina. Not sure what I would have done without my James Taylor CDs…lol

        Next time you are in town, let me know and maybe we could do that.. My family would love it!

        • That would be great. And I agree about James Taylor. His voice is like a balm or a universal language or something.
          BTW thanks for serving our country, Rodney. Military people rock!

  5. Terry Odom

    Aimee… Strangely much the same thing happened when we moved to SOUTH Carolina. This is the only state in the Union where Carolina doesn’t mean UNC and USC doesn’t mean Southern Cal. When we crossed the boarder from North Carolina and bought our house, I made this observation, “Crap, I’ll probably die here.” Then I calmly asked my lovely wife, “please, when I die, bury me in North Carolina.”

    • Terry, that is hilarious! You sound like Joseph asking his children to carry his bones back to the promised land when leave Egypt!
      I’ve already told Jeff I want to die in NC (see Mortality Math and Neon Numbers post). What is it about NC? It’s almost like there’s some sort of addictive substance in the water or something… I’d guess it was nicotine, but there’s scarcely a tobacco plant left in the state now. lol.
      Must be weird living in South Carolina. I visited USC with a friend my junior year at Carolina (UNC); she was considering graduate school there. I was taken aback that anyone could refer to all that red as Carolina! My friend ended up at Duke, which is worse in a way, but at least she was still in NC!